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West Bengal Governor says education system in state “politically caged”

Dhankhar had convened an online meeting with the vice-chancellors to discuss the academic situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday. Barring one, all vice-chancellors had stayed away.



 

The education system in West Bengal is “politically caged”, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar said on Thursday, a day after most vice-chancellors of state universities skipped a meeting called by him, and asserted he will seek an explanation for their absence.

His threatened move may set the stage for yet another confrontation with the state government.

Dhankhar had convened an online meeting with the vice-chancellors to discuss the academic situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday. Barring one, all vice-chancellors had stayed away.

Dhankhar told reporters he will also ask the VCs, who were absent, about the academic problems being faced by students because of the outbreak of the disease.

“I find there is tightening of this political cage in the education scenario in West Bengal,” he said, apparently referring to most VCs staying away from the meeting.

“I wanted to fathom the problems the universities and colleges are facing by calling a virtual meeting of VCs which they opposed tooth and nail for the reasons known to all,” he said.

Amid frequent run-ins with the governor, the West Bengal government had recently amended the relevant rules relating to the powers of the governor as the chancellor of universities.

The new rules have vastly reduced the governor’s role in the functioning of universities.

Under the fresh set of rules, all communications between the governor and the universities have to be routed through the higher education department.

“Can the education department and VCs self-proclaim they cannot be commanded by a chancellor? Are they not accountable? When they become accountable?” Dhankhar said, voicing displeasure over the absence of the VCs from the meeting.

“The saddest elements in their entire gamut is that they completely forgot the student’s crisis amidst the pandemic,” he said.

He, however, placed the blame for the absence of the VCs on the state government.

Insisting that he had shown “utmost patience” while dealing with the vice-chancellors, who he treated as “my family”, Dhankhar said the “unwholesome situation was created by the state government”.

He also referred to another meeting with the VCs he had called on January 13 which failed to take off, after the education department objected to the governor calling such an interaction without informing it.

Dhankhar said his January 15 letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee about the VCs not attending the meeting went unanswered. Dhankhad said, in his letter to the chief minister, he had deprecated “judgemental approach” and sought an end to such stalemate.

Dhankhar said the students were facing an “unprecedented crisis” and that he saw “gloom on the faces of young minds due to government apathy. The noncommittal government makes them more restive with each passing day.”

The governor said graduate and postgraduate students needed degrees to pursue further studies and secure suitable jobs through competitions.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had recently written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to re-examine the HRD ministry and UGC guidelines to hold college and university exams by September 2020 citing risks from the coronavirus disease. Dhankhar was apparently referring to that letter.

“Denying degrees means denying academic progression and jobs. Degrees cannot be given without evaluation which happens to be in the form of examinations. Exams can be held only when the courses have been completed,” Dhankhar said.

Dhankhar said he wanted to know during the meeting what steps the universities intended to take.

“How long and how far the students of this state will be denied their rights in the situation when the state has completely failed in containing COVID-19 transmission?” he asked.

Dhankhar asked Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee and all the VCs “who have been denying to come forth to grapple with these issues and problems so acutely faced by the students that where is their response to change with the crisis currently thrust on us.”

“They must come out in black and white for which they have been elected selected and funded by the people,” he said.

The governor said, in the interest of students and their education, he will have to set in motion “with utmost reluctance” action to “deal with their conduct in accordance with the applicable Act”. Dhankhar, however, was silent about what that could be.

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